Becoming Grace: Seventy-Five Years on the Landscape of Christian Higher Education in America.
Schism is no stranger to the Brethren movement. Grace Theological Seminary and College emerged from a schism that birthed the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Despite this perhaps inauspicious start, these institutions have managed to adapt and thrive over the course of their seventy-five-year history. Becoming Grace is a collection of essays that detail the formation in 1937 of Grace Seminary in Akron, Ohio; its movement to Winona Lake, Indiana, two years later; the addition of an undergraduate program beginning in 1948; and the ways that the institution has changed since its founding. Editors Jared S. Burkholder and M. M. Norris offer a complex picture of the various factors that have given shape to life at Grace and the result is a look into the theological, interpersonal, and institutional continuity and change of a Christian seminary and college.
The book consists of three different sections: tensions, contexts, and responses. The first section contains seven essays that detail areas of conflict that the Grace community has wrestled with since its inception. For those interested in understanding the broad context of the division within the (Ashland) Brethren Church that resulted in the formation of Grace, Burkholder's and Norris's contributions are of particular value, as they detail the Anabaptist and Pietist roots of the Brethren movement, the division that occurred within the Brethren Church over fundamentalist theology, and the strong personalities that persevered in forming Grace Theological Seminary and College. These chapters exceed the typical limitations of institutional history by providing the broader theological and historical currents that operated in the formation of Grace.
The four remaining essays in this section detail the wider influence of Grace as an institution. Christy Hill's essay considers the types of piety that have characterized the Grace tradition, particularly highlighting the conflict over the counseling program that developed at the seminary. Providing insight into the school's global reach, Juan Carlos Tellez discusses the missionary endeavors of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches and how Grace Theological Seminary promoted those goals through its educational program. James Swanson reflects on the changing composition of the student body, from students predominantly associated with the Grace Brethren tradition to those who come from a variety of Christian backgrounds. To close out this section, Norris considers the various ways that Grace College, in particular, has come to interact with the Winona Lake community.
The second section of the book moves the focus from the institution itself to the two most influential contexts in which it finds itself, namely the geographical location of Winona Lake and the theological framework of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Terry White provides a historical look at the setting of Winona Lake, Indiana, and its historical function as a site for revival meetings, making it a logical place for Grace to find a home. Robert G. Clouse considers how Grace, as one of the primary institutions of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, fits within the denomination.
The book closes with three responses from persons at peer schools: Steven Nolt (Goshen College); Timothy Erdel (Bethel College); and Perry Bush (Bluffton University). These responses were originally shared at Heritage Forums, where most of the chapters were first presented. As such, each response relates to both the broad themes of the text, but also to specific chapters, which are indicated in the footnotes. The responses helpfully place the themes discussed throughout the text into a broader Anabaptist and Pietist framework.
The text includes valuable sidebars that supplement aspects of each chapter and give the reader insight into the firsthand experiences of people associated with the Grace community. There are also several appendices containing documents frequently mentioned in the book, such as the seminary's 1940 "Covenant of Faith." A final element is a center section of photographs of key leaders and students who have formed the Grace community through its seventy-five-year history. These additions to the text help the reader to gain an even fuller picture of the life of the institution. A small quibble is that the sidebars occasionally span several pages and thus leave the reader leafing back and forth between the sidebars and main pages of the text, which can be awkward.
This book is an institutional history; but it is also more than an institutional history and will be useful to anyone interested in Christian higher education, the variety in Brethren traditions, and the relationship between fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and the Anabaptist and Pietist traditions. As we look at these sometimes divergent theological currents, these essays help us to make sense of the ways that they also carried some common elements that merged in the Grace Brethren tradition. A strength of the book is the many lenses through which to view the conflicts and challenges of Grace Theological Seminary and College. It is always difficult to compose an institutional history, particularly when one is, like many of these authors, currently a member of that institution. This dynamic can lead to accusations of glossing over difficulties, stigmatizing difficult figures, or overemphasizing positive aspects of the institution--in other words it can lead to the claim that there is nothing objective about the presentation. Yet Burkholder and Norris avoid these pitfalls by offering a variety of interpretations of the same events. Likewise, the process that they used in composing the book, first presenting many of the chapters to the community and receiving feedback, shows their work to be careful and critical. Becoming Grace provides a model that other institutional histories would do well to emulate by considering a variety of perspectives on the seminary and college and not shying away from detailing some of the difficulties experienced by the institution.
DENISE D. KETTERlNG-LANE Bethany Theological Seminary
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|Author:||Kettering-Lane, Denise D.|
|Publication:||Mennonite Quarterly Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2017|
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